An international symposium run by McMaster University’s Global Health program is going virtual for the second year running due to the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic.

The two-week symposium started April 19 bringing together more than 300 students and faculty from McMaster and its partner universities in India, Thailand, Colombia, Sudan and the Netherlands. This includes 100 McMaster Global Health Program students and 10 McMaster faculty members.

Topics on the agenda include vaccine hesitancy, climate change, reproductive and child health, Indigenous health, innovation and technology, and other pressing global health issues

“Our objective has been to bring as many elements as possible online in an interactive and engaging way,” said Andrea Baumann, director of the Global Health program at McMaster. 

“Many global health students, from McMaster and across our partner universities, are defining global health in action, working on the front lines and in research specific to this pandemic, and it’s been important to us to continue to keep everyone connected in a meaningful way.”

This innovation-driven learning experience has been adapted to a digital offering that aims to involve and engage students and faculty in collaborative and creative ways, in a multi-cultural environment. 

The objectives include providing students with a hands-on international learning experience; a chance to share feedback from peers and experts on individual research projects; to network with fellow students; and, to critically learn about cultural diversity.  

During the symposium, students will work in multilingual, transdisciplinary, and transcontinental teams and present abstracts of their research focusing on the United Nations’ Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). 

Simulating a scientific conference experience, the symposium offers an opportunity for students to formally present their thesis research proposals and scholarly paper abstracts.  Student presentations have been divided thematically using the SDGs.

Students will also participate in system mapping, working in groups to compare healthcare systems at thecountry-specific level, paying particular attention to issues such as COVID-19, infectious disease surveillance and traditional health care practices.

The culmination of the group work is a panel discussion where students respond to moderated questions and demonstrate their understanding of system mapping – an essential approach for tackling complex global health problems. 

For students, one of the main highlights of the symposium had been the cultural immersion experience that took place in India before the pandemic.

Instead of an in-person experience, a global student planning committee has coordinated several optional activities, including a networking event with program alumni, a documentary series discussion and a cultural showcase.

This will offer students from all partnership universities a forum to collaborate and mimic elements of the cultural immersion experience. Students can also communicate and connect through social media platforms and participate in fun, creative challenges such as a local/global picture contest.

Before the pandemic, the symposium took place in Karnataka State, India, at the Manipal Academy of Higher Education.

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